By Sigurd Neubauer
CEO Abdulaziz Al Raisi discusses his vision for Oman Air, its strategic partnership with Qatar Airways and the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry.
Despite a reduction in the number of flights, Oman Air handled over 1.2 million passengers in 2021. A total of 12,833 scheduled flights (Departures) were carried out by the national carrier, with a passenger load factor of 49 percent. During the previous calendar year, the company achieved a 90 percent On-Time-Performance rating, with 5.026 billion Available Seat Kilometers (ASK).
While the global aviation industry was impacted severely by the pandemic, Oman Air’s cargo business thrived, even surpassing 2019 levels as the carrier flew 198 flights transporting medical supplies from China to the Arab world and Africa. In 2021, 70.8 million tons of freight were transported.
Oman Air has reached 50 percent of its capacity as of April 2022, a substantial improvement from the pandemic low of 30 percent. Now that the airline’s popular Southeast Asian destinations of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines have reopened to travel, the CEO expects the carrier to continue to expand capacity. The airline’s recovery plan predicts a sharp increase starting in April and remaining stable through the end of the year, assuming that global travel restrictions are eased and demand for international air travel recovers.
Abdulaziz Al Raisi joined Oman Air as a trainee in the engineering department in 1984
Supply chain concerns have impacted Oman Air’s capacity to deliver products on schedule throughout the pandemic, as it did for most airlines across the world. In 2019, majority of the vendors relied on sea shipment, but now they do it by air, which has also contributed to Oman Air’s healthy cargo business.
Al Raisi envisions a rebuilt network based on increased collaboration with alliance partners, resulting in improved travel connectivity and a larger network of destinations. These mutually advantageous collaborations broaden Oman Air’s network outside Muscat and provide reciprocal connection for passengers flying to Oman from destinations not covered directly by the airline. “The necessity of the hour,” he says, “is to connect travellers to as many destinations as possible promptly and effortlessly.” To do so, we have strategic codeshare agreements with 18 partner airlines, allowing us to market 219 additional sectors in addition to the 46 we now operate, for a total of 265.”
“I love this job and enjoy every minute of it” - Oman Air CEO, Eng. Abdulaziz Al Raisi
It was during the pandemic that Oman Air and Qatar Airways signed their strategic partnership agreement. Under the deal, Oman Air flies three daily shuttle flights from Muscat to Doha. Oman Air also deploys its crew and pilots on Qatar Airways flights from Doha to points on Qatar Airways network.
Training and maintenance for the two airlines is carried out in Doha. Qatar Airways is providing its freedom rights to Oman Air from Doha, which has resulted in a win-win structure for both.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways is assisting Oman Air in achieving Oneworld membership, Al Raisi explains. It was Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker who pushed for Oman Air.
Being a member of Oneworld will allow Oman Air to extend its network while lowering costs. It will allow the airline to utilize lounges across the world, including ones owned by American Airlines in the United States. “Oneworld membership will place Oman on the world map,” he says.
Oman has applied to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate a direct flight from Muscat to New York for Oman Air. FAA regulators are currently working with their Omani counterparts to ensure that all requirements are satisfied, with the process expected to take between eight to nine months.
Members of the One World Alliance include Alaska Airlines, Fiji Airways (Oneworld Connect) Malaysia Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, American Airlines, Finnair, Qantas, S7 Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Qatar Airways, SriLankan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Royal Jordanian.
Oman Air already has a codeshare agreement with Qatar for flights to and from several destinations in the US; a codeshare agreement is an arrangement in which Oman Air and Qatar Airways each publish and market the same flight under their own airline designator and flight number as part of their published timetable or schedule.
Oman Air’s potential expansion to the US market is part of Oman Vision 2040 which partly centers on establishing the country as a tourist destination. Oman Air’s strategy is anchored in point-to-point journeys with Oman as the final destination.
“Our focus moving forward is on point-to-point traffic that enables Oman’s Vision 2040 strategy and its tourism growth objectives. Not only are we building a stronger airline, but we’re also building a stronger nation by reimagining the flying business to exceed customer expectations and maintain our reputation as one of the best national carriers in the world, flying to one of the most distinct and sought-after destinations in the Middle East” - Al Raisi
Oman Air does not purchase large jetliners as a result of this approach, according to Al Raisi, therefore his largest aircraft are Boeing’s 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners. In fact, Oman Air’s strategy centres solely around purchasing Boeing aircraft. “We are very happy with Boeing and the service they provide,” Al Raisi says. “They are in line with our commitment to green aviation which includes the use of cleaner, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Our medium-term goals call for a sustainable fleet comprised solely of state-of-the-art Boeing 737 and 787 variants, which will dramatically lower our environmental footprint while also increasing operational efficiencies.”
World Cup and joint promotions
Oman Air and Qatar Airways recently announced a partnership to offer Match Day Shuttle flights between Muscat and Doha during this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar. According to Al Raisi, Oman Air will fly 48 daily flights between Muscat and Doha as part of the arrangement, providing a smooth travel experience for football fans during the tournament.
Oman Air is also planning to establish a shuttle route between Doha and Salalah, which will see two or three daily flights. Additional plans to link Sohar and Doha are also discussed, the CEO adds.
The two airlines are jointly promoting tourism to Qatar and Oman for the following markets:
- United States/Canada and Latin America
- Japan and South Korea
They are promoting themes featuring shopping in Doha and nature-related tourism in Oman. From Europe, the two airlines operate independently, Al Raisi explains.
“I love this job and enjoy every minute of it,” Al Raisi says adding that because he is local—and only the third Omani in the airline’s history—to hold the CEO job, he feels a particular responsibility for taking it forward.
Despite the obstacles posed by COVID-19, Oman Air has maintained its exceptional level of service and has continued to provide an award-winning experience to its customers. The airline has gained a global reputation for providing high-quality products and outstanding customer service. In recognition of the distinguished level of service provided, Oman Air received several prestigious awards and recognitions throughout 2021 from specialized and reputable organizations.
A Five Star rating from the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) in the Major Airline category, a Skytrax Five Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating, a Skytrax Five Star COVID-19 Lounge Safety Rating at Muscat International Airport, and World’s Leading Airline Customer Experience at the 28th Annual World Travel Awards are among the more notable accolades.
About Eng. Abdulaziz Al Raisi
Chief Executive Officer of Oman Air
Eng. Abdul Aziz Al Raisi is a highly successful aviation professional with more than 38 years of cross-functional airline industry experience who has contributed to Oman Air’s growth trajectory through great leadership and vision. His extensive knowledge of the aviation industry qualifies him to lead the airline’s efforts to provide the best in-class onboard experience for its passengers, as well as shape fleet evolution and network expansion.
He began his career with Oman Air in 1984 as a trainee engineer and soon rose through the ranks to become Senior Manager of Technical Projects. He was then promoted to Chief Officer of Management Affairs, a role he held for six years and where he was responsible for Oman Air’s day-to-day operating activities in areas of revenue and sales growth, expenses, cost and margin control, and monthly, quarterly, and annual financial goal management.
Working closely with the airline’s Board and senior management team, his quick problem-solving and astute decision-making proved instrumental in achieving business objectives, and he was promoted to Executive Vice President of Products & Brand Development, a role he held for 17 months before taking on the role of Acting Chief Executive Officer; he was officially confirmed as Chief Executive Officer in 2018.
Mr. Al Raisi’s leadership has solidified Oman Air’s position as an award-winning airline of renown; among its many industry accolades are a Five-Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating from Skytrax and two consecutive Five-Star Major Airline Ratings from the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) in 2021 and 2022. Oman Air is known for its superior products and services, both in the air and on the ground, and for the trademark Omani hospitality accessible to guests on every flight, with a fleet of ultra-modern, fuel-efficient aircraft with luxuriously appointed interiors.